Clad in drapes of scintillating silk and tinkling jewels, the delicate nuances and beautiful expressions of Kuchipudi dancer fill the minds of the audience with a sheer nostalgia of centuries old traditions from the ancient temples of Andhra Pradesh. “What you wear carves a strong impression of who you are, “and equally imparting it character to justify the graceful aesthetics of stagecraft, themes of choreography, dimensions of body movements, and atmosphere of the event.
Even the term ‘COSTUME’ is derived from the English word ‘custom’ that takes into consideration the values and facets of the traditional society, apart from motion. For eons, the costume of a Kuchipudi dancer has been a timeless Indian tradition that is followed religiously by artistes, impervious of changing trends. Besides, the make-up and ornamentations relate to Aharya Abhinaya as ‘Rangabhusa’ aspect.
A study of ancient treatise on dramaturgy, Natya Shastra has decoded the appearance of Kuchipudi dancer into 3 parts, namely:
Kuchipudi outfit is reminder of rich past of the Brahmins of KUCHELAPURAM, ANDHRA PRADESH, who practiced their traditional dance form in devotion to their deities. Mainly fabricated out of silk yarns, the dress has a long pleat in centre with a border and a back katcham. A small side fan is attached to it distinguishes it from Bharatanatyam attire. It is designed to suit the fleet-footed movements of the dance while maintaining the elegance.
Also, the colour gamut symbolises the personage held by the character in society, for instance:
- WHITE: Brahmins and Vidyadharis
- YELLOW: Siddhis
- GREEN: Gods and Goddesses
- BLUE: Milk Carriers
- RED/ RUST: Kshatriyas and Gandharvas
- OTHER DARK SHADES: Vaishyas, Shudras & Demons
As ascribed by Bharat Muni in Natya Shastra, “the use of decoration or ornamentation in a dance production is very much the reflection of what accessories people used in real life based on their social status and region”. So, depending upon the vritti (type) and dharmi (form) of the performance, the jewels used by Kuchipudi dancer to intensify their visual performance are:
- TALAY-SAAMAN or CHUTTI on the line of forehead and hair parting.
- MAATAL fixed to the ear lobes and hair in order to cover cochleae.
- JIMMIKI or KUNDALU clipped to the ears.
- CHALANG clipped to the left nostril with a tiny hanging on the lower part.
- MAANGA-MALAY, MUTHU-MALAY, TANMANI and KANTHA-HAARAM, the variety of necklaces wore to balance a dancer’s breathing.
- KAMAR-PATTA or VADDANAMU tied around the waist to support the spinal column.
- VALAYAL clasped to the wrists for grace and added protection.
- GHUNGHROO tied to ankles as protection & enhance the rhythm.
- KUNJALAM, JASMINE FLOWERS, & ORANGE KANAKAMBARAM adorn the hair to lift the overall look.
Kuchipudi is an act of devotion to deities, and like any other auspicious occasion in Indian culture, such dance recitals also see the men and women in the finest semblance. This adds character and grace to the performance.
The makeup regime of dancer most importantly includes:
- KOHL to elongate the eyes for expressiveness during abhinaya
- BASE & HEAVY BLUSH to brighten the face.
- ALTA to impart red colour to palms & feet for making mudras look splendid and dramatic.
That’s about the appearance of Kuchipudi Dancer. From head to toe, their clothing, ornaments, and makeup synergise to project grace and fluidity on stage. Furthermore, ‘Costume’ is attributed as a sort of discipline that timelessly follows the requirements of a particular dance technique, its place of origin, and its ethnic association.